The watch experts at Wempe celebrate the 40th anniversary of its Fifth Avenue showroom.
WEMPE’s original New York location at 695 Fifth Ave. in 1980.
What began as a tiny business in 19th century Germany has expanded into an iconic Fifth Avenue institution with the world’s biggest names in watchmaking. Proudly located in the heart of Manhattan at 700 Fifth Ave., iconic horlogerie Wempe is ringing in its 40th year stateside by releasing limited-edition timepiece collaborations and honoring its dedicated team.
Wempe’s New York journey began in 1980 when the grandson of the Wempe empire decided to expand the store beyond its German roots. Hellmut Wempe chose New York City as Wempe’s first international location and decided only the best locale would do: Fifth Avenue. He persuaded another store owner at 695 Fifth Ave. to share half of its real estate. At first, Wempe’s New York showroom struggled for years, but instead of cutting his losses, Wempe was determined to succeed. In 1987, Hellmut Wempe hired German-born Rüdiger Albers, currently Wempe’s president, as a master watchmaker.
“I was very fortunate that a few years later, the then-manager fell in love with the son of Max Mara, moved into his castle in Italy, and I moved into her office. I became the manager at a very young age and started to work on this puzzle,” says Albers. He was given two years to make the store a success. “I loved it in New York right away, and I wanted to have a reason to stay, so I got to work, and we became the strongest-performing store in the Wempe universe.”
A vintage description of Albers’ quest to find a Fifth Avenue location. He approached the owner of a shoe store about subdividing the space.
Now, the boutique has a sprawling 500 square meters of sales room at its 700 Fifth Ave. location, a second boutique in Fifth Avenue’s Rolex building and a total of 35 stores worldwide, including Paris, London and Madrid. Albers credits Wempe’s prosperity to the lengths its employees go to in order to provide their customers with a warm, comfortable environment.
“We have a long list of customers that have been with us from the very first moment [in New York] until today and then their kids,” Albers says. “Once you shop with Wempe, you just don’t want to go anywhere else.”
20 Candles ring
Albers also attributes Wempe’s success to the longevity of the team’s members, many of whom have been with the company for decades—Albers himself has been a part of Wempe’s team for 33 years. Wempe prides itself on celebrating its employees’ individuality, which is why uniforms aren’t required. The boutique includes a state-of-the-art service department, which is one of four repair centers in the country authorized by Patek Philippe.
Through the years, Wempe has evolved by becoming more Americanized without sacrificing its German heritage, keeping its emphasis on service quality while continuing to expand its store. One new development will be Wempe’s augmentation of its online presence this winter. “I think we’re still who we were 40 years ago, just getting a little better every day,” says Albers.
The Chopard Alpine Eagle Large
To celebrate its fourth decade in New York City, Wempe has launched a limited-edition watch from its own line adorned with red, white and blue as an homage to Wempe’s American journey. A collaboration with Chopard, called the Alpine Eagle, will also be released to commemorate the anniversary and friendship between the two houses. Looking to the future, the boutique’s team is excited for the next generation of Wempes to continue the family’s tradition, growing its jewelry department and array of collectors’ watches. “We pride ourselves on giving customers a special experience,” says Albers. “That you walk out feeling like that was a whole different level of luxury that you will always cherish and have positive thoughts when you look at your watch.
Photography by: Courtesy of Wempe